An AGO Free Wednesday with Kuya Spirit
Toronto, Canada: where
3 mins: read time
If you’ve walked down Ossington chances are you’ve seen any of the six murals Kuya Spirit has on the sides of restaurants there. His self titled style of painting Ancient Grafuturism is defined by his use of mixed media and designed symbols, deities and representations of self. When I visited his new studio in Kensington market, paintings were stacked up against a wall. He has been painting prolifically since finding his focus in the new space.
On a shelf he pointed to show me a pile of ribbon, place mats and other found objects. He explained his plan to turn them into a sculptured self portrait. I hadn’t even written up this interview when I was walking through the market and caught Kuya sunning a couple of paintings outside his studio. One of the pieces – the completed self portrait.
Where does your art name come from?
I sat with myself and meditated. I thought about what I wanted in a name. I started thinking about my family and I kept hearing my siblings calling me by what they call me – which is Kuya. It means older brother. I had the most beautiful feeling that it’s it.
Do you find a lot of inspiration for your paintings from your family life?
Oh yeah. I am constantly inspired to paint because of it. I feel like they are here.
Do you ever get to paint or create art with your family or is it an experience that you prefer to explore alone and share later?
I usually paint by myself. I do like to paint with my toddler cousins I use their hands as hand prints sometimes. Kiko and Rocky, they are so cute I just want to have them with me.
Your paintings are full of symbols and implied symbolism can you explain some of that?
They are freestyles; they just come out of me. It’s more about the feeling I feel when I put them down. The feeling is freedom… it’s euphoric, smooth and just right.
Can you freestyle?
What did you think about Mitchell and Riopelle’s work that we saw today?
It was work that I couldn’t really connect to. But the way that they put the paint down made me orgasm visually. So I appreciate that.
Who is an artist whose work you can relate to, or want to keep exploring?
Tessar Lo is one of them. Yo man, that’s my homie… I love his work so much. Him and David Cho who is boss level. I really enjoy Picasso.
Have you seen Picasso’s sculptures at the AGO?
Yeah I love his synthetic cubism. It’s my favourite.
What is your favourite colour right now?
Ah right now this very second... probably this yellow. Yellow Naples Hue – It’s been this colour.
I thought of you the first time I saw the Mitchell and Riopelle exhibit. It reminded me of your work.
Yeah, especially the earlier works or Riopelle’s; they look like your under paintings. He uses a lot of the same shades of colours that you do. What are the most layers of paintings you’ve put into one painting?
The most might be eight.
You end up with an archaeological heritage of emotion. I’d say it’s not a genuine Kuya unless there are multiple paintings under each other.
This one is the third painting, that one is the second and this one is on the first time. It’s good when it works out the first time I am trying to do that more.
Interview and photography by Alexis Venerus
See more of Kuya's work @RowellSoller